BlogScienceHow to Become a Veterinary Scientist – Experiences of a Government Veterinary Officer

How to Become a Veterinary Scientist – Experiences of a Government Veterinary Officer

Imagine getting to combine your love of animals with a degree. That’s exactly what being a Veterinary Scientist can offer you!

We spoke to someone who has worked in two different areas of Vet Science, giving you an insight into this career. 

Keep reading for more!

Meet Michelle
What is a Veterinary Scientist?
Steps to Becoming a Veterinary Scientist
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Veterinary Scientists

Meet Michelle

How did you end up in this role?

Michelle now works as a government Veterinary Officer with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, where she coordinates a team that oversees the bird import program!

Prior to this, Michelle was a vet in a clinical practice who felt she wanted a change.  

Studies and Experience 

Michelle studied a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at university. 

Before she began working in her current government role, she took a low-level government science job with the Department and moved up the ranks. 

What made you want to work in this industry?

I have always enjoyed animals and the science of diagnosis and treatment. I’ve had horses my whole life. I really enjoy doing practical things with animals,” Michelle said.

What is a Veterinary Scientist?

Vet Scientists can take on many diverse roles, but are engaged in treating, researching and regulating animal health. Vets who work in clinical practice will administer treatments and surgery to domestic or farm animals.

Other vets, like Michelle, work to develop policies and processes that protect and maintain animal health. 

Roles and Responsibilities 

The typical day can vary greatly for a Vet. Michelle spoke to us about what it may look like in clinical practice, as well as her day now. 

“When I was in clinic, I worked in a mixed practice with small animals and horses. Sometimes we saw goats or cattle too!” Michelle shared.

Vet - Interviewee Quote

Michelle explained that because most clinics only have a few vets, hours can be very long — sometimes, clinic vets work 12 hour days!

In Michelle’s current government job, her day is a little more centred around desk work.

She liaises with airport and border staff, making sure that all birds being imported are cared for well and meet Australia’s import health requirements. She also has regular contact with a large biosecurity centre in Geelong, who run a lot of tests to ensure both people and animals remain healthy through the import process!

“The other thing we do is talk to other government vets overseas because there’s quite a lot of testing required for birds coming into Australia… in complex cases, we will have to sort through what needs to be done.” 

Occasionally, Michelle still gets on the ground to visit and inspect quarantine centres, or to help with caring for the birds if other vets aren’t available. 

Which industries can this career be found in?

Veterinary scientists can be found in many different industries. Some primary areas are:

  • Private and clinical practice 
  • Government 
  • Teaching and research 
  • Animal welfare and conservation 
  • Wildlife and zoo care

What jobs do people sometimes confuse this with?

People often confuse Veterinary Scientists, or Vets, with Vet Nurses.

A Veterinary Scientist has a degree and is able to make decisions regarding treatment, medication and surgery. They will often operate on animals and be called to solve complex problems.

A Vet Nurse works in a similar way to other nurses, looking after the animals and monitoring them whilst treatment proceeds. Most Vet Nurses become qualified through a TAFE Certificate. 

Learn more about different tertiary qualifications here!

Characteristics and Qualities 

Vet - Characteristics

As a Vet, you need to be able to observe situations quickly and accurately to implement change. 

Because you are dealing with animals and people, you must be a great communicator who can listen to the needs of clients, articulate yourself clearly and make decisions that benefit both the animal and the owner. 

This often involves reading about complex illnesses and procedures, or having a deep understanding of scientific study. 

Steps to Becoming a Veterinary Scientist

What should you study?

Becoming a Vet requires a postgraduate degree. Many universities offer a Bachelor of Veterinary Science or a Bachelor of Science with a major in Veterinary Studies. 

You could also study a broader science degree, followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. 

If you are particularly keen to go straight into government work, you may also study a Masters of Veterinary Public Health instead of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. It is worth researching your state’s requirements to see what role would suit you best!

The University of Sydney’s Sydney School of Veterinary Science is currently ranked as the top place in Australia to study, according to QS Top University Ranking by Subject. 

Learn more about USYD’s Veterinary Biology and Veterinary Medicine course here! You can also check out the pros and cons of the degree here.

How long does it take to become a Vet?

An undergraduate Veterinary degree takes roughly four years.  

After this, you will be able to work in a practice but must undertake a Doctor of Veterinary Science before registering as an accredited Veterinarian in your state. 

This process takes 6-7 years total. If you are in New South Wales, you can find out more here!

Industry Knowledge 

While there is rarely assumed technological knowledge when becoming a vet, most private practices use software to teach admin, surgeries, general health and medication. Some of the most common are AVIMark and IntraVet 

In Michelle’s government job, it is also common to use the OIE – World Organisation for Animal Health. This site contains vast amounts of information on animal diseases of global importance, for use in regulation, study and treatment. 

What will this career look like in the future?

How in-demand is this career? 

According to JobOutlook, there is very strong future growth in this career. In fact, the majority of Vets are now between 25-34 years old, suggesting it is currently a young industry! 

Did you know that a veterinary degree is one of the most employable in Australia? Learn about the most employable degrees here!

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?

As we have already learned, there are a lot of different areas for Vets to specialise in. 

In clinical practice, Vets can undertake a specialisation via a fellowship whilst working. Fellowship specialisations operate in a similar way to a degree, but are undertaken privately, with fellows, rather than through a university. 

You may specialise in animal medicine, surgery or a specific type of animal. The options for specialisations vary between state and country. 

Michelle explained that if you work in a government role, there are opportunities to be posted globally or in specific Australian premises (including Parliament House). Because Vets have easily transferable skills, many move into policy work or liaison positions as they progress in their career. 


Annual SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$133,000+Very strong over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

The Future of this Industry 

Increasingly, Veterinary Scientists are being recognised in areas outside of clinical practice. There are increased employment options for graduating Vets who may engage in policy work of broader animal welfare roles. 

The Australian Veterinary Association now includes streams such as wildlife and public health in their annual conference, validating the increasingly varied roles of the Veterinary industry.  

Best Thing & Worst Thing

Michelle, what do you enjoy most about your job?

The thing I enjoy most is working with good people. I often say I could do almost any job if I had great people to work with,” Michelle said.

Michelle also thinks it’s great to have a job where you can see a worthwhile impact for both animals and people!

What is the hardest part of your job?

A lot of people (Vets) find it hardest when they make a mistake… when it has consequences for an animal or people, or both, it’s hard,” she noted.

Michelle explained, however, that with a good team you can easily recognise and fix problems before they become major issues.

Advice for Aspiring Veterinary Scientists

What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?

The more work you can do while studying, the better,” Michelle said. “If you can get a part time job in a clinic to get experience, that is great.”

If you’re thinking about becoming a Vet, take Michelle’s advice! Don’t wait until after you graduate to get into the field — start now and make those connections while you can, because this could give you an upper hand when looking for roles after finishing your studies.

Why should people consider taking on this career?

If you love animals, are inquisitive or science oriented, you may consider becoming a Vet! This career can afford you many diverse opportunities and allow you to engage with people and animals alike.  

Job Flexibility 

Clinic Vets are required to work at their practice and rarely have the ability to work from home. 

However, government, policy or research jobs like Michelle’s often allow Vets to work from home at times. In fact, Michelle has been working partly from home since well before COVID-19!  

What is the workplace culture like? 

Michelle loves where she works. Vets often work in small teams, especially in clinical practice. Though this can have its downsides (like making it difficult to take leave), it allows for great personal growth and friendship!

Lucinda Garbutt-Young hopes to one day be writing for a big-shot newspaper… or maybe just for a friendly magazine in the arts sector. Right now, she is enjoying studying a Bachelor of Public Communication (Public Relations and Journalism) at UTS while she writes on the side. She also loves making coffees for people in her job as a barista, and loves nothing more than a sun shower.


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